Hartung says current U.S. defense strategy “costs too much and achieves too little”

By Quincy Institute For Responsible Statecraft

Contrary to rising calls to increase the United States’ already massive military budget in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, boosting military spending would be misguided, counterproductive, and it would ultimately make America less safe, according to a new research brief released today by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

“Current U.S. defense strategy costs too much and achieves too little,” writes the brief’s author, Senior Research Fellow William Hartung. “In the drive to dominate the globe militarily, the United States has attempted to do almost everything, with the result that little is being done well.”

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The report demonstrates how America’s over-militarized foreign policy is locked in by the influence of weapons manufacturers, revealing that the industry has spent $285 million on campaign contributions and $2.5 billion on lobbying over the past two decades, while receiving $7 trillion in contracts in the same period.

With respect to the Ukraine crisis, Hartung suggests that “resources to address the Ukraine crisis should be generated by repurposing existing military funding, not spending more.” He notes that the actual costs of reassuring U.S. allies in Europe and providing military assistance to Ukraine will be a small fraction of the current military budget, which is far higher than what the United States spent at the height of the Cold War.

Pathways to Pentagon Spending Reductions: Removing the Obstacles,” demonstrates that America’s problem is not that it spends too little on its military — indeed, it will spend almost $800 billion this year, more than the next 10 countries combined. Instead of focusing on the most urgent national security threats we face, American policymakers repeatedly write and pass Pentagon budgets that are primarily shaped by a dysfunctional strategy of global military primacy, pork-barrel politics, and out of control corporate lobbying. It is only by taking these problems head on, and not funneling more money to the military industrial complex, Hartung argues, that we can make the United States more secure.

“If the United States is to generate the funds needed to address pandemics, climate change, and other nonmilitary challenges that more directly threaten human lives and livelihoods,” Hartung writes, “the Pentagon can no longer be provided with a blank check.”

The newest QI brief also includes a set of policy recommendations for lawmakers hoping to align America’s military strategy and spending with the real security threats we face in 2022:

• Adopt a strategy of military restraint, cutting the war budget in favor of meaningful investments in diplomacy and economic development aid.

• Curb the influence of the weapons industry by placing limits on lobbying and the revolving door between government and industry.

• Blunt defense industry job losses by investing in sectors that directly impact domestic security—green energy, infrastructure, and public health.

“The Biden administration wants to have its cake and eat it too—trying to increase the military budget while also spending more on diplomacy and addressing the climate crisis,” said Hartung. “This ‘both and’ strategy has failed—Pentagon spending increases have sailed through Congress while climate investments have stalled. It’s time for our leaders to rightsize our bloated military budget, re-orient our defense strategy around urgent threats, and help deliver real security for the American people.”

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